Order Up – Making Algebra Meaningful

My first thought when creating my lessons is how can I get students curious! Sometimes curiosity will come out from Act 1 of a 3 Act math task. Or sometimes it’s from a puzzelly type open activity that makes students struggle.

Here is MY new struggle:

How can I make students curious when teaching collecting like terms, and eventually the distributive property?

Last year’s opener to teach collecting like terms:

  1. Give them a perimeter problem where the sides have an unknown value.
  2. Ask for an expression for the perimeter in terms of x.
  3. Now here is x….find the perimeter.

And that’s it! Every time I do this kids are confused and ask “Why didn’t we just have the value of x to begin with?”

I want a task that makes us curious and need to use like terms to simplify an expression.

Task 1: Order Up

Task 2: Dora to the Rescue

Order Up

Part 1 (Act 1): Being Curious

Let’s have a discussion on this. Why did he order like that? What’s his problem? This is super weird.

What is the cost of his order?

Act 2: The Menu at Burger Shack

The Menu

Part 2: The Struggle (Collaboration)

In their groups they are to determine the cost of the order. Here is the magic! Some groups will add up the total in order of the way he ordered. Some groups will organize by type and then find the total. This is what we are hoping for.

Part 3: Connection

Which method is faster? Let’s write an algebraic expression to represent the cost! Viola collecting like terms.

Part 4: Consolidate

—Now we can practice some textbook type questions on collecting like terms!

Thanks to Mylene Abi-Zeid for sending me this.

2 thoughts on “Order Up – Making Algebra Meaningful

  1. Love the video, and great idea for a introducing like terms. I always do this with poker chips. I give them several poker chips of one colour and ask them how they would calculate the value. Then we work our way to creating terms and then expressions with different colour chips. From there we work our way to adding and subtracting polynomials. I’m always amazed at what they can do before teaching them the algebra, its all about context!

  2. Russell

    I love the video at the end hilarious! The only qualm I have is it seems like you are using variables to represent something that is neither unknown nor does it vary. For example, saying the cost of 3 burgers and two fries can be represented with 3b + 2f isn’t a proper use of variables; we already know the cost of a burger and a fry.

    I would offer two suggestions.1) Either use variables to represent the number of burgers and the price becomes the coefficient (so you lose the idea of combining like terms). Or take away the prices. “Johnny spent $14 on a burger, 2 fries, a burger, a coke, and a coke. What are come possible prices for each item?” Well, if the variables represent the cost of each item then we have 2b+2f+2c=14. Which means one of each item is $7. Which means a burger could cost 3, fries cost 3 and a coke costs 1. Or, burger costs 4, fires 2, and coke costs 1.

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